As a citizen of the USA I bristled when I first read that PLO leader Yasser Arafat had held my country responsible for the massacre of Palestinian civilians , men, women, and children, in west Beirut on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.
But then I began to think about the chain of circumstances which has led to this horror, which indeed it was.
Here is what has happened.
On Wednesday, Sept. 15, Israeli troops, in violation of a promise made to US President Ronald Reagan, advanced from their positions outside of west Beirut into the whole of west Beirut.
Eyewitness accounts by US and other Western reporters and diplomats say that as the Israeli forces entered the city they fired shells and mortar fire into the Palestinian refugee camps, Shatila and Sabra, on the southern side of west Beirut. Wounded began to enter a hospital located between the two camps.
Eyewitness accounts agree that the Israelis then set up a military perimeter around the two camps.
The same accounts agree that the camps were then entered by soldiers of two irregular Lebanese military formations. One of these is the self-styled Phalange recruited by the family of Bashir Gemayel which has been operating in the predominantly Maronite Christian part of Lebanon lying just north of Beirut. The other is a militia force under a Maj. Saad Haddad which has been operating in southern Lebanon just above the Israeli border.
The Haddad force has been trained, equipped, supplied, and paid by Israel. It was brought north with the Israeli army as that army moved up from Israel to Beirut.
The Gemayel family force has been subsidized and armed by Israel. It has held east Beirut for months. It was in position just to the east when Israeli forces moved into west Beirut. Part of the Israeli attacking force came through the Phalangist lines on its way into west Beirut.
Western eyewitness accounts agree that after the Israelis had set up their perimeter around the two camps troops of both Pha-langist and Haddad organizations entered the camps. The accounts agree that light weapons firing was heard from inside the camps on Thursday and Friday. They agree that units of both Gemayel and Haddad forces passed freely in and out of the camps through Israeli lines. Some reports say that on Friday hurried efforts appear to have been made to push rubble over bodies scattered around the camps.
President Reagan understood that when PLO forces withdrew from west Beirut the area would then be occupied by the regular troops of the Lebanese government. The President in his statement on the massacre says that the regular Lebanese units ''were thwarted in this effort by the Israeli occupation which took place on Wednesday.''
The above makes clear beyond doubt that the massacre was committed by troops which have been operating with the Israeli armed forces, which have been in different degrees equipped and controlled by Israel, and which were allowed by Israeli forces to enter the camps.
The atrocity, then, was able to occur because the Israeli army, in defiance of an understanding between President Reagan and the Israeli government, invaded west Beirut. It would not have occurred had the regular Lebanese Army entered west Beirut and taken up its intended function of keeping the peace there.
Then take the process back a further step.
None of this would have happened if the Israeli army had not invaded Lebanon last June and had not put itself in a position to control events in Beirut.
Then back one more step.
The armed forces of Israel were able to invade Lebanon because they are in fact the decisive and dominant military force in the Middle East. They can and do dominate the entire area with their power.
And now the final step back.
Israel's military power is based on the best and latest American weapons, sometimes supplied to Israel even before being issued to US forces. Israel's superior armed forces are built on an economy heavily subsidized by American taxpayers. Israel is today the most subsidized client of the US.
In other words, this atrocity was made possible because American taxpayers have made Israel the dominant military power in the Middle East.
Since the US is the supplier of the power it is responsible for the way in which that power is used. It has been used in a way which led President Reagan to say, ''All people of decency must share our outrage and revulsion over the murders, which included women and children.''
What does a great country do when one of its clients thus misuses the power which has been put into the hands of the client?
The right and responsible thing to do is to withhold further aid of all kinds until or unless the client becomes responsible and can be trusted to use its delegated power responsibly.